Outbreak investigation methods for enteric viruses were improved in 1990s when gene amplification techniques were established in viral laboratories.
The objective of the study was to determine the causative agents for Finnish viral gastroenteritis outbreaks. Our aim was also to further characterise the norovirus strains, reveal the temporal occurrence of norovirus (NV) genotypes and to study some epidemiological aspects concerning the outbreaks.
A total of 416 Finnish viral gastroenteritis outbreaks that occurred during 5 years (1998-2002), excluding those among hospitalised children, were investigated for enteric viruses. Stool samples were screened by electron microscopy as well as analyzed by specific noro- and astrovirus RT-PCR tests. Amplicon sequence analysis was used to find out norovirus genotypes.
Noroviruses caused 252 (60.6%) of the outbreaks; other viruses, astro- or rotavirus, caused four epidemics. Norovirus epidemics occurred in all kinds of settings, most often in hospitals (30.6%) and in restaurants and canteens (14.3%). Both NV genogroups were found every year, but NV GGII outbreaks always outnumbered those of GGI. All but one outbreak at hospitals and nursing homes were of genotype GII. Polymerase sequence analysis revealed a variety of NV genotypes; six GI and at least eight GII genotypes. The GI.3 Birmingham-like and GII.4 Bristol-like genotype appeared every year, whereas the other types were circulating for shorter periods or sporadically. During the study period the genotypes GII.4 (Bristol), GII.1 (Hawaii), an emerging genotype GIIb, and a new variant of GII.4 predominated in that order. Indication for rapid genetic changes in the genotype GII.4 was also noticed.
Noroviruses were the most prevalent causative agents in the outbreaks. Many NV genotypes were circulating, and a shift in the predominant genotypes was evident between epidemic seasons.